Tag Archives: civil-liberties

Every cloud

You wait months for a post then two come along at once.
This post is meant to give a tiny bit of cheer to all those of us in the UK who are bewailing the recent election results.

(The word “Hallelujah!” even escaped a work colleague when I showed him this link.)

So, every cloud may indeed have a silver lining…. From the Register:

Biometric passport 2.0 scrapped alongside ID cards, NIR
Second-generation biometric passports will be scrapped alongside ID cards and the National Identity Register by the new Tory-LibDem government, probably as part of a merger between the LibDem Freedom Bill, and the Great Repeal Bill advocated by some sections of the Tory party.

******Breaking news*********
Oh, and this:

The new government plans to ban the controversial practice in schools of taking children’s fingerprints without their permission.

The decision is likely to mean a change in the law. According to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), as it stands the Data Protection Act allows schools to take pupil fingerprints without permission, prompting outrage from parents’ groups.

Taking security seriously

Authorities in Doncaster airport – aka Robin Hood Airport – have been acting in a way that might have given even the Sheriff of Nottingham pause. Or, at least, shown him how wonderfully easy controlling the peasants would have been if he’d just had the sense to wage The War on Outlawry.

An mildly jokey throw-away tweet line by a frustrated traveller has earned him a criminal record and cost him his job and just under a thousand pounds.

The offending tweet said:

Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!

Note that this was just a tweet, presumably meant to be read by people with enough knowledge of the English language to recognise the normal conversational use of figure of speech. It wasn’t a “threat” delivered to the airport. Obviously the tweeter never imagined that anyone connected with Robin Hood Airport would read it. Nor, guessed that EVEN THOUGH everyone involved on the airport side says they knew full well it wasn’t really a threat, that he would still end up destroyed by it.

Or have terrorists now got into the habit of casually tweeting their intentions?

In that case, the ruination of one ordinary man’s life is a small price to pay for winning the War on Terror. Or the War on Twitter.

Or the War on Photography, even. As, it seems the “potential terrorists” are still up to their old dastardly tricks of taking photographs of well known landmarks. So, it’s a great comfort to us all that the police are still on the ball and stopping professional photographers from getting shots of London buildings.

How thoughtful of the City of London police to keep us safe. Carrying on with the good work of Robin Hood airport. (When you find this post through a google search, Mr Hood, you’ll see how impressed we are with your vigilance. And clearly, you won’t detect any irony, as you don’t recognise figures of speech.)

If imaginary figures can turn in their graves, there’s a man wearing a green hoodie rotating at mach 1 somewhere in the residual bit of Sherwood Forest.

They steal your soul

Police in Greater Manchester have been walking around with hand-held cameras filming parolees and “people they don’t like the look of” with the intention of putting video footage on Youtube.

How beautifully ironic that police in some parts of the country are arresting and dearresting people carrying cameras with intent to capture images, while their colleagues in other places are doing that exact thing as a supposedly powerful crime-fighting tool.

What is it about the magic of cameras? There is a probably mythological idea that certain tribes believed that photographs somehow stole your soul. Our society seems to hold to a contradictory belief that photographic images are at the same time both “terrifyingly dangerous” and “the solution to every social problem”. Which of these beliefs is the most obviously irrational? (Rhetorical question)

This reminds me of a post on the Register that showed pictures of Google Street View vehicles, taken by the people who were themselves featured on Google Street View taking the pictures on the Register. The Register suggested that

Surveillance feedback loops threaten fabric of time and space

Ugly word, ugly actions

A photographer was arrested for taking photographs in Kent – and apparently also for being tallish in a public place (according the Register, although this bit of the story may be apocryphal). Well, being tallish seems safer than looking a bit Brazilian.

Medway Eyes has links to several magazines and newspapers that discuss this infuriating story. (Eg, Henry Porter in the Guardian.)

The wrongness of this incident is self-evident. (For instance, let’s start with the misuse of anti-terror laws to harass people or with the de facto imposition of a requirement to show ID…..)

However, I’m getting soooo tired about banging on about the loss of civil liberties that I won’t bother here. Please take it as read.

Instead, I’m just going to whine about the word “de-arrested” According to Amateur Photography:

A spokesman for Kent Police confirmed this morning: ‘We can confirm that on Wednesday 8 July, at approximately 12.30pm, a man was arrested on Military Road, Chatham. After a short period of time the man was dearrested and no further action will be taken.’

“Dearrested”. It’s not a word.

I’m all for making up words on spec but surely any inventions should add something to the English language, not just make speech uglier, to no purpose.

What’s wrong with “freed”? Maybe “freed” was rejected because it carries a subliminal association with the concept of “freedom,” whereas “dearrested” just reminds you of “arrest.”

There’s a subtle suggestion that the condition of being arrested is the default state, with “dearrest” (sic, not “dearest”, please try to keep up) being the anomaly.

Obviously, being “dearrested” is infinitely preferable to being arrested. But, then, who’d have thought – ten years ago – that using your own camera in a public shopping street could lead to you getting arrested in the first place?

On 9th July, the Metropolitan Police issued guidelines to its police officers to point out that taking photographs was not a crime, but apparently the Home Office was not altogether behind that seemingly innocuous message. And it certainly doesn’t seem to have filtered through to the Medway towns.

In any case, if taking photographs is somehow a crime, how can anyone square that with the ubiquity of CCTV in Britain? There must be scarcely more than ten feet of public space that isn’t being photographed on a 24-hour -a-day basis. The Register pointed out a truly amazing statistic:

As if to underline Britain’s status as the West’s most monitored society, the BBC’s Freedom of Information requests showed that authorities on the Shetland Islands have more CCTV cameras than the San Francisco Police Department.

Respect for the dead

Funerals are obviously for the living. John Mortimer wouldn’t have welcomed his church funeral if he was alive to see it, but then – d’oh – he wouldn’t be having a funeral then, would he?

All the same, there seems something deeply disrespectful to the memory of a noted and outspoken atheist to have god-infused funeral. It’s as if – even though he notably failed to come up with a death-bed repentance of his unbelief – his mourners decided to do it on his behalf. Maybe this is how the myths about death-bed conversions get attached to the lives of unbelievers.

Sir John called himself an atheist for Christ,” the vicar said. “He always came to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. But he emphatically did not believe in life after death. My hope,” she added, “is that he has had a wonderful surprise.”
John Mortimer’s atheism was one of his most cherished convictions. He loved to cross-examine an archbishop about God and find his evidence deficient.
Yet it was at the little medieval church of St Mary the Virgin, in Turville, near Henley-on-Thames, where his parents are buried, that Sir John’s family and friends gathered yesterday to sing The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, Is Ended at his funeral. (from the Times)

He went to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve? He probably loved carols. Doesn’t everyone? He may have enjoyed a bit of traditional ritual. I’ve attended any number of rituals for belief systems that I don’t seriously entertain for a moment. I hope they don’t all start scrapping over my bones when I’ve gone.

I can’t see attendance at the odd Christmas service as justification for a metaphorical religious dancing on his grave.

The celebatheists site described Mortimer as

…an unbeliever who is very much sympathetic to the ethical and cultural aspects of Christianity. (From celebatheists.com)

I still don’t think that justifies a church funeral. Even in his 80s, John Mortimer was writing and campaigning about civil liberties.:

The latest novel, Rumpole and the Reign of Terror, concerns a Pakistani doctor accused of terrorist activities, giving Mortimer the chance to lay into what he sees as the erosion of civil liberties. And he is already engaged in formulating the next Rumpole plot, which will be about Asbos.
……. Now he’s on to the subject of identity cards.”One thing my father said was that if you find yourself in a country where you have to carry papers, you know it has a lousy government.” (from a Guardian interview in 2006)

If you were to find out that a Special John Mortimer Memorial Edition ID card had been issued, because Mortimer once complimented the design of a sample ID card, this would be no more startling than to find out that well-known atheist had been given a church funeral.

UK Liberty coalition – not before time

The forthcoming Convention on Modern Liberty gathering on 28 February will be a …. call to arms, to all parties, to resist the government’s attack on our liberties, rights and privacy. “(from Henry Porter in the Guardian)

Supported by the Guardian, Rowntree Trust,Liberty and Open democracy, a host of people, including well-known lawyers, writers and MPs from all parties, will discuss the way that

the patterns we see in the Coroners and Justice Bill, ID card laws and the Communications Data Bill (which will allow the government to seize and store every text message, email, phone call and internet connection) tell us that our democracy is under serious threat.

Woohoo. At last. Almost brings a tear to my eye to see a disparate range of people coming together to challenge the encroaching authoritarianism of our country.

There are events throughout the UK. Details on modernlibertynet It isn’t cheap to attend these but you can access news on a blog, facebook, twitter, and so on.

European court 1 UK Home Office 0

The European Court of Human Rights (made up of 17 senior judges – 17, count them- from all over Europe) has ruled that the UK’s determination to keep hold of any DNA it can get its hands on is a breach of human rights.

The whole judgement is magisterially sweet, as reported by the BBC. It’s not on the EC Court of Human Rights’ site yet but you can see some of the details of the case there.

Otimo. Bravo. Wunderbar. Bellissimo. (I’ve run out of pan-European superlatives and have already stretched linguistic capacity too far for these to be exactly right. You get the idea anyway)

It’s a bit embarrassing that the UK has to rely on the House of Lords to throw out 42 detention plans or the European human rights court to challenge creeping authoritarian. But, as a country, we have become so pathetic that we need any help we can get.

More media stuff

The Guardian seems to have started a Wire discussion group. It would be churlish to suggest that the Guardian, as an entity, never took as much interest in the Wire before it centred round a newspaper office.

(Charlie Brooker and a couple of other Guardian tv reviewers were the honourable exceptions to this.)

I’m going to steal its intro warning to explain why I haven’t been indulging in my customary gushing over the genius of the Wire:

SPOILER ALERT: Usual rules: No giving the game away if you’ve gone further; don’t spoil it for yourself if you are further behind.

Basically, it’s too difficult to remember which Wire events are OK to write about and which aren’t, in case I spoil someone’s enjoyment. Sadly, I’ve already spoilt it for myself by seeing it already. I know what’s going to happen in the wind-up part of the 5-series set, so I don’t want to watch it until I’ve forgotten enough detail to make it watchable again.

There’s an Iraq war short series from “the team who brought you the Wire.” I would be grateful if someone who’s seen it in the US will tell me if it’s good. I’ve decided to wait till it’s on television here, so as not to spoil it, in case it is good.

However, I’m so squeamish that I won’t want to watch it if it’s too distressing. Which, given that it’s about the Iraq war, is probably a certainty. So I’m in two minds about the whole thing and would welcome any guidance.

Otherwise completely unconnected to the above rambling, except for being also interesting in today’s Guardian, there’s an article by Hicham Yezza, the academic who’s waiting to be deported after downloading the al-qaeda manual for a colleague.

The UN’s committee on human rights has just published a report criticising Britain’s anti-terror laws and the resulting curbs on civil liberties. For many commentators the issues raised are mostly a matter of academic abstractions and speculative meanderings. For me, it is anything but. These laws have destroyed my life. (from Hicham Yezza in the Guardian.)

I had lazily assumed that this nonsense was all sorted out months ago. It appears not. Just because the media have lost interest doesn’t mean that this absurdity has been undone. In fact, some inexorable process – that Yezza characterises as Kafkaesque – seems have been set going.

An Olympic Sized Lesson

Some sad news today, with a bit of a reflection on the current fear-based legislative ideas that grips the west.

From the BBC:

Sixteen Chinese policemen have been killed in an attack on a border post near Kashgar city in the western region of Xinjiang, state media say.
Two men drove a lorry into a group of jogging policemen before attacking them with explosives and knives, according to the Xinhua news agency.

Without a shadow of a doubt, this is sad news and my condolences to the families of all those involved (on the massive off-chance Chinese people can even read this blog).

It shows that the evil of terrorism is truly a global problem. Oddly, China is on record as having an astoundingly appaling human-rights record. It has laws that would make almost anyone in the “free” west blink twice. It has oppressive laws controling how its citizens can (and can’t) behave, forced ID controls and monitors the activities (on and off-line) of its population.

In short, China has the anti-terrorist powers that most western governments would die for.

Did it prevent this attack? Obviously not. Is there any reason to think that people in China are safer from [terrorists|murders|paedophiles|insert bugbear of choice] than any western nation? Well, no.

If anything, history shows that the more oppressed a population becomes, the greater the “revolutionary” response — oddly the US is both an example of this and the figure-head of the New World Order. Terrorists (revolutionaries) find fertile breeding ground where one segment of society feels it is being treated unjustly and no amount of monitoring, surveillance, torture (etc) will prevent this. The current War on Terror is especially ironic as the “terrorists” hate the west because of our freedoms. In our goal to prevent them turning us into oppressive nations we are becoming an oppressive nation.

Well done us.

Is there a solution? If there is, I don’t have it. In the UK terrorism is outlawed by criminal law. Terrorism is a crime. Can a 100% crime-free utopia exist?

For me, the only reasonable solution is to accept the fact there will always be some level of crime (murder, terrorism, burglary etc) and find a situation where we can minimise its impact without destroying the freedoms we once considered universal and self-evident.

Is that difficult?

No Photo Day 2008

Following my posting yesterday (although I doubt the two are linked), I received a message on flickr today, inviting me to join a group (No Photographs Day / 15.DEC.2008) that read:

All,
We, the photographers of the world, are at risk. More and more we are viewed with suspicion, more and more we are subject to illegal interpretations of new anti-terrorism laws, more and more are we stopped and our cameras, our film, our digital media are either confiscated or wiped by officials unaware of the real laws. More and more are we bullied, more and more are we treated with disrespect and fear.
This needs to stop.
This group is to organize a protest.
This protest will involve attempting to get *every* member of flickr to refrain from uploading *any photographs* on a specific day.
This day will be Monday, December 15th 2008.
Join the group, put it in your diaries, tell your friends, discuss in the group, tell people you know in the media, come together.
Come together before it’s illegal to use a camera in a public place.

Now, I am not yet convinced of the value this action will take, but I rarely see the point in “awareness raising” activities so that is not unusual. However, the group does address something I have begun to become interested in (which is why I have “raised awareness” of it through the medium of blog).

Added to this, it (worryingly) seems there are many groups of people who have had problems in one way or another because of their interest in photography:

Representative or not, it is a sorry state of affairs if people in the “free” civilized societies in the west can not carry out a harmless pastime that has been enjoyed for a hundred years. Wont life be better when we carry our papers round, are stopped at random by non-Police Security / Border Guards, are monitored 24/7, have all our emails sifted through by civil servants, be imprisoned for drawings …

Welcome to the New World Order.

OK, I lied

Sorry, I know I promised not to mention it again but but David Davies, the Tory Shadow Home Secretary, has just stepped up* in a truly astonishing way.

He’s resigned from the Conservative party to stand in a by-election for his own seat, on a platform of opposing the “erosion of civil liberties.” Not just the 42 days but the database state and CCTV. Woot. The man is fast becoming my hero.

From the BBC report

BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson said it was an extraordinary move which was almost without precedent in British politics.

I’ve decided to list the Labour MPs of principle as well.
The 36 Labour rebels were:

Diane Abbott (Hackney North & Stoke Newington), Richard Burden (Birmingham Northfield), Katy Clark (Ayrshire North & Arran), Harry Cohen (Leyton & Wanstead), Frank Cook (Stockton North), Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North), Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne Central), Andrew Dismore (Hendon), Frank Dobson (Holborn & St Pancras), David Drew (Stroud), Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme), Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent Central), Paul Flynn (Newport West), Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow), Dr Ian Gibson (Norwich North), Roger Godsiff (Birmingham Sparkbrook & Small Heath), John Grogan (Selby), Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney), Kate Hoey (Vauxhall), Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North), Glenda Jackson (Hampstead & Highgate), Dr Lynne Jones (Birmingham Selly Oak), Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool Walton), John McDonnell (Hayes & Harlington), Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock), Bob Marshall-Andrews (Medway), Michael Meacher (Oldham West & Royton), Julie Morgan (Cardiff North), Chris Mullin (Sunderland South), Dr Doug Naysmith (Bristol North West), Gordon Prentice (Pendle), Linda Riordan (Halifax), Alan Simpson (Nottingham South), Emily Thornberry (Islington South & Finsbury), David Winnick (Walsall North), Mike Wood (Batley & Spen) (from the Independent)

I am very pleased to see my last-week’s hero Alan Simpson is in there in my new political heroes list. Plus a good few more. Blimey, a patriotic tear is rising in my eye. There is still some hope for the country.

* Apologies to the Wire for gratuitous use of Baltimorespeak. And, in case you’re wondering why no recent Wire blogs, it’s because I don’t want to do Series 5 spoilers.

Slebs against 42 days detention

I’ve barely recovered from the life-questioning shock of hearing the Conservative Shadow Home Secretary (who, disappointingly, doesn’t do shorthand in a really dark house) talk perfect sense about the 42 days fiasco, on the BBC on Sunday.

(He said the measure would foster terrorism rather than defeat it, for a start. He said that mass surveillance and ubiquitous CCTV didn’t prevent crimes. Blimey. We are really through the looking glass now. I would have always thought agreeing with a Conservative would-be minister would be a mark of imminent dementia and here I am applauding his ratioality. Oh bugger.)

Now, it’s the turn of z-list celebs to demonstrate against the 42-day rule.

On principle, I hate celebs assuming that, having shown some skills in the tricky areas of acting, performing music, being born with a famous dad or being prepared to make idiots of themselves in public, their political opinions are somehow especially valid.

But, faced with the BBC’s “Stars urge MPs against 42 days” story, I can only say “Bravo, celebs.”

It seems that only Honor Blackman and Vivienne Westwood made up the celeb contingent that Liberty had assembled, which isn’t much of a celeb crowd, but was at least enough to get the BBC to notice. Plus Chris Huhne (Liberal), David Davis (Conservative Home Affairs representative) and Diane Abbott, a brave and admirable – or “outspoken left-wing ” a/c the BBC – Labour MP. Respect to you all.

Identity Cards Will Cure All That Ails You

Well, first off, thanks to Alun sending me the link to the monstrously funny site called “spEak You’re bRanes” and the simply amazing Twat O Tron, I no longer have the faintest idea if the garbage posted on the BBC website’s have your say section is even slightly real. Worryingly, I think that the gibberish there is actually posted by real people. I say real people, but now I am convinced they are actually employees of the Home Secretary posting nonsense in a thinly disguised attempt to change public opinion. I would hate to think that people this stupid would be able to use a computer well enough to access the internet.

One of today’s talking points is the prospect of introducing Identity Cards to this once free nation. Weirdly the BBC seems to have used the wrong tense with the title, but it is called “Is the government creating a ‘surveillance society’?” and, boy, has it generated some nonsense.

Take this wonder from “Joy Pattinson” (claiming to be from Switzerland, but that just makes me think it is the Twat o Tron):

I have no confidence in this “government” whatsoever! They are unelected, uncouth and incompetent. But I am for ID cards 100% but think they should include everybody over the age of 12 with so much knife crimes in the UK. ID cards are in focus in other European countries and they are not considered security states. But I prefer to live in on with security and less personal freedom than the other way around. ID card protect the honest and legitimates. Those protesting are suspect! Joy

What? Seriously this idiot is claiming that carrying ID cards will prevent knife crime. How, Zeus only knows. I honestly cant even work out where to begin with this bit of nonsense. And, as a point of note, the Labour Party were elected to power in the UK, it is down to the party to decide on the leader of the government.

“John from Wilts” also produces a strangely “Twat-0-Tron”-esque comment with:

I have 2 ID cards both Spanish. One has my name and address on it and my Spanish NHS number and my fingerprint on the reverse. The 2nd card is my medical card with my NHS number and date of birth. Should I have an accident anywhere in Spain when the card is swiped it gives my doctors name my Consultorio (Surgery) and access to my medical records which would include any time spent in hospital and the treatment recieved. What fuss people make about ID cards here is entirely childish and petty.

Again we have another magical use for ID cards to save lives. Quite why some one from Wiltshire thinks a Spanish health service card is any use to them – or different from carrying your British NHS card – is beyond me. Does the NHS even have a system which would allow this?

Oddly, this wonderful life saving use of ID cards is not one they could be put to – so quite how John From Wilts thinks it is relevant is beyond me. Is this an opening shot in the inevitable mission creep ID cards are going to suffer from?

People who support ID cards have a list of things they think the ID card will protect them from. The fact that none of these match the government claims is ignored. Weirdly, the government itself seems unable to quantify what value ID cards will give to our society. What crimes in the (say) last 10 years would have been prevented by people carrying ID cards?

Still, despite this, there seem to be people capable of at least some higher brain functions who support ID cards.

Why?